Fantasy baseball Draft Strategies: Wait when drafting starting pitchers
Matt Harvey, Jose Fernandez, Julio Teheran, Anibal Sanchez, Shelby Miller, Hiroki Kuroda, Mike Minor and A.J. Burnett have two things in common. They all ranked among the top 40 fantasy starting pitchers in 2013, and they all had an average draft position last year of 136 (the fourth pick of the 12th round in a 12-team draft) or worse, based on SI.com's 2013 ADP review.
Calling the above pitchers "top-40 pitchers" greatly understates what some of them accomplished last season. Harvey, Fernandez and Sanchez all finished the season as top-10 pitchers and top-40 overall players. Minor, Miller and Teheran ranked 17th, 20th and 21st, respectively, at the position, and 60th, 76th and 77th overall. The 77th overall pick is the fifth pick of the seventh round of a 12-team draft. These 2013 draft-day bargains weren't just steals at the starting pitcher position -- they were among some of the biggest heists in all of fantasy baseball last year.
In the second installment of our Draft Strategies series, we look at this year's undervalued starting pitchers -- my favorite group of players in the draft.
Starting pitcher is always one of the deepest positions for fantasy owners, and that makes it ripe for profit. Value is the name of the game in all formats of all fantasy sports. That's what makes popular 2014 debates like Jason Kipnis vs. Robinson Cano worthwhile. Few people would argue that Kipnis is a better player than Cano, but would you rather use a late-first round pick on the latter or an mid-third round pick on the former? Fantasy owners should be prioritizing value over all else, and the easiest place to find value is in the middle tiers of starting pitchers.
That is not to say you should automatically write off the priciest starters in the league. You can still profit off of guys like Clayton Kershaw, Stephen Strasburg, Jose Fernandez and Chris Sale. Nine times out of 10 they will truly anchor a staff and end up at the top of the rankings at the end of the year. Harvey and Fernandez don't walk through that door every season. They are unique talents who, by a special set of circumstances, were severely undervalued in 2013.
Even without a Harvey or a Fernandez, the starters that go in the middle and late rounds usually provide some of the greatest return on investment of any players in fantasy baseball. That's why familiarizing yourself with those pitchers is crucial to building a winning staff on the cheap.
To qualify for inclusion in this column, a starting pitcher needs to have an ADP lower than 120, meaning he's going after the 10th round in a typical 12-team draft. Unsurprisingly, we have quite the list to choose from. The following is not an exhaustive list, but rather is a reproduction of what my queue will look like the moment I enter the draft room. I will expand on a few of my favorites after the list.
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• Fister/Estrada -- I've already spent plenty of time touting Fister and Estrada this draft season -- check out my burning question for Fister, Brewers preview for Estrada and NL sleepers for both to read my opinions on them.
• Salazar -- How Salazar is currently the 36th pitcher off the board in an average draft is beyond me. He was dominant in his 52-inning stint with the Indians last year, and was just as lethal at Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus before getting the call to the majors. He has electric stuff, topped by a fastball that sits -- yes sits -- at 96 mph.
• Cashner -- The Padres' No. 1 starter is three slots behind Salazar among starting pitchers, a late spot that is equally as ridiculous. Cashner had a 3.09 ERA, 3.35 FIP and 1.13 WHIP last year. He issued just 47 non-intentional walks and gave up a paltry 12 home runs in 175 innings. His strikeout rate of 18.1 percent left something to be desired, but there's reason to believe that will increase this year. His average fastball velocity is 94.6 mph, which ranked fourth in the majors last year. The only three better were Harvey, Stephen Strasburg and Fernandez.
• Burnett -- Burnett is the 52nd pitcher off the board in an average draft, which makes me think a lot of drafters haven't watched a pitch Burnett has thrown since he left New York. In two seasons with the Pirates, Burnett had a 3.41 ERA, 3.17 FIP, 1.23 WHIP and 8.9 K/9 across 393.1 innings. He's a strikeout maven who now calls home the NL East, where he'll get to regularly face two of last year's worst offenses.
• Ross -- In 94 innings as a starter last year, Ross put up a 3.06 ERA, 2.92 FIP, 1.10 WHIP and 97 strikeouts. Opposing hitters slashed .207/.291/.309 with just five homers. He should get roughly half his starts in one of baseball's best parks for pitchers, and he has a fastball that sits in the 94-95 mph range. And yet, he ranks 68th among starting pitchers in ADP. Take advantage of this fact on draft day.
• Bradley -- If one guy has any chance to be this year's Harvey or Fernandez, it's Bradley. The No. 5 overall prospect according to MLB.com, Bradley's average fastball is in the mid-90s, his true 12-to-6 curveball evokes Burnett, and a changeup that talent evaluators expect to be, at the very worst, league average. The Diamondbacks don't have to rush him to the majors, but the bet here is that he's in Arizona before the summer hits.
Finding value is the key to building a winning fantasy team, and there's no easier place to find it than among the middle- and late-round starting pitchers. If you can stack your roster with three of the players ranked from Moore to Kluber above, you will build a strong pitching staff without having committed a ton of resources to the task.
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